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Thousands line up in Jamaica for free fuel at Queens Armory

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Thousands line Douglas Avenue in Jamaica for their chance to fill up on 10 free gallons of fuel. Photo by Phil Corso
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Desmond Kelly (l.) and Jahvan Plumber walk away with their fuel ration from the Jamaica Armory. Photo by Ken Maldonado
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A long line forms outside a Mobil gas station along Hillside Avenue in Jamaica as residents throughout the borough look for fuel. Photo by Phil Corso
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Leon Richardson, of Jamaica, fills his car with gas after waiting nearly eight hours for 10 gallons of gas. Photo by Phil Corso
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Members of the National Guard assist Jamaica residents in providing emergency fuel dispersements after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Phil Corso
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The National Guard distributes free fuel at the Jamaica Armory. People waited in line for over three hours to obtain their 10-gallon ration. Photo by Ken Maldonado

Leon Richardson, of Jamaica, was only one example of what so many others throughout the city endured over the weekend after he waited in line for eight hours to fill up his gas tank in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“It’s ridiculous,” Richardson said. “You would never think of this happening in the United States.”

Since the storm battered the Northeast Oct. 29, fuel had become more scarce and contributed to the long lines growing outside gas stations throughout the borough and region. In response to the growing demand, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced over the weekend that temporary fuel trucks would be deployed in the city and on Long Island for relief.

The 5,000-gallon trucks, provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, were stationed in five locations in coordination with the state National Guard, Cuomo said. The governor also said an additional 150,000 gallons of fuel was delivered throughout the day to restock the tankers.

One truck was stationed at the Queens Armory, at 93-05 168th St. in Jamaica, where thousands waited for their 10-gallon maximum.

Richardson said he waited in line all day and watched as anxious and fuel-hungry residents became desperate. Throughout the day, Richardson said the crowd grew rambunctious, sparking fights and some police intervention.

“People started cutting the line and causing disputes,” Richardson said.

Other temporary fuel trucks were stationed in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Freeport, L.I., Saturday. But as the day wore on and resources dwindled, Cuomo ordered that fuel be reserved for first responders and emergency personnel.

But even as thousands of gallons of free fuel poured out in Jamaica, nearby gas stations drew long lines of idling cars with people desperate to fill up. Minutes away from the Queens Armory, a Mobil gas station near the corner of Hillside Avenue and 139th Street attracted a line of cars, creating hours-long traffic delays. It was a familiar scene at various gas stations throughout the borough, which either ran out of gas by the end of the weekend or required police oversight to disperse what was left.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Hauppauge) was a vocal advocate for those in need of fuel and called on the U.S. Department of Energy to help powerless gas stations service their communities. On Friday, Israel asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to grant top priority to stations without power to get the gas flowing.

Meanwhile, thousands lined Douglas Avenue and 168th Street in Jamaica throughout the day, with one line for cars and another filled with others with their gas cans at the ready. Toward the front of the line, onlookers would shout whenever someone’s turn was up and cheer whenever they moved forward.

Paul Noble, who works at the Queens Armory, watched the line move with relief since he was one of the first to fill up Saturday morning.

“This is crazy. I’ve lived through worse storms, but I have never seen anything like it before,” said Noble, whose Jamaica residence was still without electricity. “And 10 gallons is nothing. Everyone will be coming back after a day.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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